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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 21 — The Thirty Years' War

Chapter 5 — Edict of Restitution

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Edict of Restitution – Its Injustice – Amount of Property to be Restored – Imperial Commissaries – Commencement at Augsburg – Bulk of Property Seized by Ferdinand and the Jesuits – Greater Projects meditated – Denmark and Sweden marked for Conquest – Retribution – Ferdinand asked to Disarm – Combination against Ferdinand – Father Joseph – Outwits the Emperor – Ferdinand and the Jesuits Plot their own Undoing.

THE party of the League were now masters of Germany. Front the foot of the Tyrol and the banks of the Danube all northwards to the shores of the Baltic, and the coast of Denmark, the Jesuit might survey the land and proudly say, "I am lord of it all." Like the persecutor of early times, he might rear his pillar, and write upon it that once Lutheranism existed here, but now it was extinct, and henceforth Rome resumed her sway. Such were the hopes confidently entertained by the Fathers, and accordingly the year 1629 was signalized by an edict which surpassed in its sweeping injustice all that had gone before it. Protestantism had been slain by the sword of Wallenstein, and the decree that was now launched was meant to consign it to its grave.

On the 6th of March, 1629, was issued the famous "Edict of Restitution." This commanded that all the archbishoprics, bishoprics, abbacies, and monasteries, in short all the property and goods which had belonged to the Romish Church, and which since the Religious Peace of Passau had been taken possession of by the Protestants, should be restored. This was a revolution the extent of which it was not easy to calculate, seeing it overturned a state of things which had existed for now nearly a century, and implied the transference of an amount of property so vast as to affect almost every interest and person in Germany. "It was a coup-d'etat as furious," says Michiels, "as if the French were now to be asked to restore the clerical property seized during the Revolution." [1]

Part of that property went to the payment of the Protestant ministers: good part of it was held by the princes; in some cases it formed the entire source of their revenue; its restitution would beggar some of them, and irritate all of them. The princes might plead that the settlement which this edict proposed to overturn had lasted now seventy-five years; that it had been acquiesced in by the silence of four preceding emperors, and that these secularizations had received a legal ratification at the Pacification of Augsburg in 1555, when a proposed clause enjoining restitution had been rejected. They might farther plead that they were entitled to an equal share in those foundations which had been contributed by their common ancestors, and that the edict would disturb the balance of the constitution of Germany, by creating an overwhelming majority of Popish votes in the Diet.

The hardships of the edict were still farther intensified by the addition of a clause which touched the conscience. Popish landed proprietors were empowered to compel their vassals to adopt their religion, or leave the country. When it was objected that this was contrary to the spirit of the Religious Peace, it was coolly replied that "Catholic proprietors of estates were no farther bound than to allow their Protestant subjects full liberty to emigrate." [2]

Commissaries were appointed for carrying out the edict; and all unlawful possessors of church benefices, and all the Protestant States without exception, were ordered, under pain of the ban of the empire, to make immediate restitution of their usurped possessions. Behind the imperial Commissaries stood two powerful armies, ready with their swords to enforce the orders of the Commissaries touching the execution of the edict.

The decree fell upon Germany like a thunderbolt. The bishoprics alone were extensive enough to form a kingdom; the abbacies were numberless; lands and houses scattered throughout all Northern Germany would have to be reft from their proprietors, powerful princes would be left without a penny, and thousands would have to exile themselves; in short, endless confusion would ensue. The Elector of Saxony and the Duke of Brandenburg, whose equanimity had not been disturbed so long as religion only was in question, were now alarmed in earnest. They could no longer hide from themselves that the destruction of the Protestant religion, and the ruin of the German liberties, had been resolved on by the emperor and the Catholic League.

A commencement was made of the edict in Augsburg. This was eminently a city of Protestant memories, for there the Augustan Confession had been read, and the Religious Peace concluded, and that doubtless made this city a delicious conquest to the Jesuits. Augsburg was again placed under the government of its bishop, and all the Lutheran churches were shut up. In all the free cities the Romish worship was restored by the soldiers. As regards the richer bishoprics, the emperor, having regard to the maxim that all well-regulated charity begins at home, got the chapters to elect his sons to them. His second son, Leopold William, a lad of fifteen already nominated Bishop of Strasburg, Passau, Breslau, and Olmutz, obtained as his share of the spoil gathered under the edict, the Bishopric of Halberstadt, and the Archiepiscopates of Magdeburg and Bremen. When the ancient heritages of the Benedictines, Augustines, and other orders came to be distributed anew, by whom should they be claimed but by the Jesuits, an order which had no existence when these foundations were first created! To benefice a youth of fifteen, and endow the new order of Loyola, with this wealth, Ferdinand called "making restitution to the original owners." "If its confiscation was called plunder, it could not be made good by fresh robbery." [3]

Meanwhile the camarilla at Vienna, whose counsels had given birth to this Edict of Restitution, with all the mischiefs with which it was pregnant to its authors, but which it had not

yet disclosed, were indulging in dreams of yet greater conquest. The tide of success which had flowed upon them so suddenly had turned their heads, and nothing was too impracticable or chimerical for them to attempt. East and west they beheld the trophies of their victories. The once powerful Protestant Churches of Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary were in ruins; the Palatinate of the Rhine, including that second fountain of Calvinism, Heidelberg, had been added to their dominions; their victorious arms had been carried along the Weser, the Elbe, and the Oder, and had stopped only on the shores of the Baltic. But there was no reason why the Baltic should be the boundary of their triumphs. They would make a new departure. They would carry their victories into the North Sea, and recover for Rome the Kingdoms of Denmark and Sweden. When they had reached this furthest limit on the north, they would return and would essay with their adventurous arms France and England. in both of these countries Protestantism seemed on the ebb, and the thrones so lately occupied by all Elizabeth and a Henry IV, were now filled by pedantic or senile sovereigns, and a second period of juvenescence seemed there to be awaiting their Church. This was the moment when the "Catholic Restoration" had reached its height, when the House of Hapsburg was in its glory, and when the scheme of gigantic dominion at which Loyola aimed when he founded his order, had approached more nearly than ever before or since its full and perfect consummation.

The dreams of aggression which were now inflaming the imaginations of the Jesuits were shared in by Ferdinand; although, as was natural, he contemplated these anticipated achievements more from the point of his own and his house's aggrandizement, and less from that of the exaltation of the Vatican, and the propagation over Europe of that teaching which it styles Christianity. The emperor viewed the contemplated conquests as sound in principle, and he could not see why they should not be found as easily practicable as they were undoubtedly right. He had a general of consummate ability, and an army of 100,000 strong, that cost him nothing: might he not with a force so overwhelming walk to and fro over Europe, as he had done over Germany, and prescribe to its peoples what law they were to obey, and what creed they were to believe? This he meant assuredly to do in that vast territory which stretches from the Balkan and the Carpathians to the German Sea, and the northern coast of Sweden. The next conquest of his arms he fully intended should be the two Kingdoms of Denmark and Sweden; and then changing the German Confederacy into an absolute monarchy, sweeping away the charters and rights of its several States, which he regarded but as so much rubbish, shutting up all its heretical churches, and permitting only the Roman religion to be professed, the whole to the extreme north of Sweden would be brought under what he accounted "the best political constitution – namely, one king,, one law, one God." [4]

But to the emperor, and the Jesuits, his counselors, giddy with the achievements of the past, and yet more so with the dreams of the future, defeat was treading upon the heels of success. Retribution came sooner than Ferdinand had foreseen, and in a way he could not calculate, inasmuch as it grew out of those very schemes, the success of which seemed to guard him against any such reverse as that which was now approaching. The man who had lifted him up to his dizzy height was to be, indirectly, the occasion of his downfall. The first turn in the tide was visible in the jealousy which at this stage sprang up between Ferdinand and the Catholic League. The emperor had become suddenly too powerful to be safe for Catholic interests, and the Jesuits of the League resolved to humble or to break him. So long as Ferdinand was content to owe his victories to Maximilian of Bavaria as head of the League, and conquer only by the sword of Tilly, the Jesuits were willing to permit him to go on. He was their servant while he leaned upon the League, and they could use him or throw him aside as they found it expedient. The moment they saw him disposed to use his power for personal or dynastic ends in opposition to the interests of the order, they could check him, or even strip him of that power altogether. But it was wholly different when Ferdinand separated his military operations from those of the League, called Wallenstein to his service, raised an army of overwhelming numbers, and was winning victories which, although they brought with them the spread of the Roman faith, brought with them still more power to the House of Hapsburg, and glory to its general, Wallenstein. Ferdinand was now dangerous, and they must take measures for curtailing a power that was becoming formidable to themselves. Maximilian of Bavaria summoned a meeting of the League at Heidelberg, and after discussing the matter, a demand was sent to the emperor that he should disarm – that is, dismiss Wallenstein, and dissolve his army. [5] Remove the pedestal, thought the meeting, and the figure will fall.

Other parties came forward to urge the same demand on Ferdinand. These were the princes of Germany, to whom the army of Wallenstein had become a terror, a scourge, and a destruction. We can imagine, or rather we cannot imagine, the state of that land with an assemblage of banditti, now swollen to somewhere about 100,000, [6] roaming over it, reaping the harvest of its fields, gathering the spoil of its cities, torturing the inhabitants to compel them to disclose their treasures, causing whole villages on the line of their march, or in the neighborhood of their encampment, to disappear, and leaving their occupants to find a home

in the woods. The position of the princes was no longer endurable. It did not matter much whether they were with or against Ferdinand. The ruffians assembled under Wallenstein selected as the scene of their encampment not the most heterodox, but the most fertile province, and carried away the cattle, the gold, and the goods which it contained, without stopping to inquire whether the owner was a Romanist or a Protestant. "Brandenburg estimated its losses at 20,000,000, Pomerania at 10,000,000, Hesse-Cassel at 7,000,000 of dollars, and the rest in proportion. The cry for redress was loud, urgent, and universal; on this point Catholics and Protestants were agreed." [7]

Ferdinand for some time obstinately shut his ear to the complaints and accusations which reached him on all sides against his general and his army. At last he deemed it prudent to make some concession to the general outcry. He dismissed 18,000 of his soldiers. Under the standard of Wallenstein there remained more marauders than had been sent away; but, over and above, the master-grievance still existed – Wallenstein was still in command, and neither the League nor the princes would be at rest till he too had quitted the emperor's service.

A council of the princes was held at Ratisbon (June, 1630), and the demand was renewed, and again pressed upon Ferdinand. Host painful it was to dismiss the man to whom he owed his greatness; but with a singular unanimity the demand was joined in by the whole Electoral College, by the princes of the League, the Protestant princes, and by the ambassadors of France and of Spain. Along with the ambassadors of France had come a Capuchin friar, Father Joseph, whom Richelieu had sent as an admirable instrument for working on the emperor. This monk has received the credit, of giving the last touch that turned the scale in this delicate affair. "The voice of a monk," says Schiller, "was to Ferdinand the voice of God." Ferdinand was then negotiating for the election of his son as King of the Romans, with the view of his succeeding him in the empire.

"It will be necessary," softly whispered the Capuchin, "to gratify the electors on this occasion, and thereby facilitate your son's election to the Roman crown. When this object has been gained, Wallenstein will always be ready to resume his former station." [8] The argument of Father Joseph prevailed; Wallenstein's dismissal was determined on; and when it was intimated to him the general submitted, only saying to the messenger who brought the unwelcome tidings, that he had learned his errand from the stars before his arrival. Ferdinand faded to carry his son's election as King of the Romans; and when he found how he had been outwitted, he vented his rage, exclaiming, "A rascally Capuchin has disarmed me with his rosary, and crammed into his cowl six electoral bonnets." [9]

All parties in this transaction appear as if smitten with blindness and infatuation. We behold each in turn laying the train for its own overthrow. The cause of Protestantism seemed eternally ruined in the land of Luther, and lo, the emperor and the Jesuits combine to lift it up! Ferdinand prepares the means for his own discomfiture and humiliation when in the first place he quarrels with the League, and in the second when he issues the Edict of Restitution. He drives both Jesuits and Protestants from him in turn. Next it is the Jesuits who plot their own undoing. They compel the emperor to reduce his army, and not only so, but they also make him dismiss a general who is more to him than an army. And what is yet more strange, the time they select for making these great changes is the moment when a hero, who had bound victory to his standards by his surpassing bravery and skill, was stepping upon the shore of Northern Germany to do battle for a faith which they had trodden into the dust, and the name of which would soon, they hoped, perish from the Fatherland.

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